A research team led by the University of Virginia is developing a low-cost 50 megawatt wind turbine, with 200 metre blades, for use offshore.
Most wind turbines in use today are 1 to 2 megawatts and have blades up to 50 metres long; the largest is 8 megawatts and has 80 metre blades.
Current wind turbine blades are stiff to prevent metal fatigue and to stop them flexing and hitting the tower in strong gusts of wind. This is achieved by adding more metal to the blades – but this increases their weight and cost to manufacture and deploy.
The research team is developing a “Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor” to overcome this problem.
The ultralight blades are designed to adapt to wind strength by changing the direction the blades are facing. In very high winds, the blades bend and align with the wind direction, much like a palm tree in a hurricane, which reduces the risk of damage. When the wind is blowing at lower speeds, the blades spread out to maximize energy generation.
Being manufactured in segments, the blades can be assembled on site from the segments.